Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: CB Steven Nelson
Stock Value: Up
One of the great success stories of the season for the Steelers, in spite of the end result, has been the acquisition and subsequent performance of Steven Nelson, the fifth-year cornerback whom they signed as their prized free agent back in March, from the Kansas City Chiefs.
Though he had been getting consistent playing time since his second year, Nelson only entered into a full-time boundary role in 2018, during which campaign he recorded four interceptions and 15 passes defensed. He was among the most highly-targeted cornerbacks in football, however, and seemed to be a boom-or-bust sort.
That was not the story this season. He was not targeted much at all in 2019, and is not credited with giving up any touchdowns. He allowed a big play or two, but some were not solely his fault, rather a breakdown in communication leading to a mistake in coverage assignment.
While Joe Haden was named to the Pro Bowl yesterday as an alternate, boasting his five interceptions (Nelson had just one), it may well have been his counterpart who had the better season for the Steelers. He provided consistently sound coverage throughout the year, able to work in both man in zone concepts.
One can only hope that this is the bar at which is set his level of play, because they’re going to need him to do this for years to come. It’s been a long time since Pittsburgh had this successful a season from a pair of starting cornerbacks, period, but we also know that Haden is getting ‘old’ for the position.
Many seemed to be low, or lukewarm at best, on Nelson when he was originally signed. ‘He’ll be an upgrade from the garbage we have, at least’, was the prevailing assessment. He proved to be that and more, in some metrics grading out as one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. A pleasant surprise, to be sure, with hopefully more to come.
The funny thing is, we don’t even have a lot of stock photos of him from this season, because he wasn’t often targeted. But that’s a very happy problem to have.